Communication and the Manager’s Job

How important is communication? Consider this: Managers spend at least 80 percent of every working day in direct communication with others. In other words, 48 minutes of every hour is spent in meetings, on the telephone, communicating online, or talking informally while walking around. The other 20 percent of a typical manager’s time is spent doing desk work, most of which is also communication in the form of reading and writing.3

Exhibit 13.1 illustrates the crucial role of managers   as communication  champions. Managers gather important information  from both inside and outside the organization and then distribute appropriate information to others who need it. Managers’ communication is purpose-directed, in that it directs  everyone’s attention toward the vision,  values, and desired goals of the team or organization and influences people to act in a way to achieve the goals. Managers facilitate strategic conversations by using open communication,  actively listening to others, applying the practice of dialogue, and using feedback for learning and change. Strategic conversation refers to people talking across boundaries  and hierarchi- cal levels about the team or organization’s vision, critical strategic themes, and the values that help achieve important goals.4  For example, at Royal Philips Electronics, president Gerald Kleisterlee defined four strategic technology themes that he believes should define Philips’s future in the industry: display, storage, connectivity,  and digital video processing. These themes intentionally  cross technology boundaries, which  requires that people com- municate  and collaborate  across departments  and divisions  to accomplish goals.5 Effective managers use many communication methods, including selecting rich channels of commu- nication; facilitating upward, downward, and horizontal communication; understanding and using nonverbal communication; and building informal communication networks that cross organization boundaries.

Communication permeates every management  function described in Chapter 1.6 For example, when managers perform  the planning function, they gather information;  write letters, memos, and reports; and meet with other managers to formulate the plan. When managers lead, they communicate to share a vision  of what the organization  can be and motivate employees to help achieve it. When managers organize, they gather information about the state of the organization  and communicate a new structure to others. Communi- cation skills are a fundamental part of every managerial activity.


A professor at Harvard  once asked a class to define communication by drawing pictures. Most students drew a manager speaking or typing on a computer  keyboard. Some placed “speech balloons” next to their characters; others showed pages flying from a printer.  “No,” the professor told the class, “none of you has captured  the essence of communication.” He went on to explain that communication means “to share”—not “to speak” or “to write.”

Communication thus can be defined as the  process  by which information is exchanged and understood by two or more people, usually with the intent to motivate or influence be- havior. Communication is not just sending information. Honoring this distinction between sharing and proclaiming is crucial for successful management.  A manager who does not listen is like a used-car  salesperson  who claims, “I sold a car—they  just did not buy it.” Management communication is a two-way  street that includes listening  and other forms of feedback. Effective communication, in the words of one expert,  is as follows:

When  two people interact, they put themselves into each other’s shoes, try to perceive the world as the other  person perceives it, try to predict how the other will respond. Interaction  involves reciprocal role-taking,  the mutual employment of empathetic skills. The goal of interaction is the merger of self and other, a complete ability to anticipate,  predict,  and behave in accordance with the joint needs of self and other.7

It is the desire to share understanding  that motivates executives to visit employees on the shop floor, hold small informal meetings, or eat with employees in the company cafete- ria. The things managers learn from direct communication with employees shape their  un- derstanding of the organization.


Many people think communication is simple. After all, we communicate  every day without even thinking  about it. However, communication usually is complex, and the opportunities  for sending or receiving the wrong messages are innumerable. No doubt, you have heard someone say, “But that’s not what I meant!” Have you ever received directions you thought  were clear and yet still got lost? How often have you wasted time on misunderstood  instructions?

To more fully understand the complexity of the communication process, note the key elements outlined in Exhibit 13.2. Two essential elements in every communication situation are the sender and the receiver. The sender is anyone  who  wants  to convey an idea or concept to others, to seek information, or to express a thought or emotion. The receiver is the per- son to whom the message is sent. The sender encodes the idea by selecting symbols with which to compose  a message. The message is the tangible formulation of the idea that is sent to the receiver. The message is sent through  a channel, which is the communication carrier.  The  channel can be a formal  report,  a telephone  call or e-mail  message, or a face-to- face meeting. The receiver decodes the symbols to interpret the meaning of the message.

Encoding and decoding are  potential sources  for communication  errors be- cause knowledge,   attitudes,   and back- ground act as filters and create noise when translating from symbols  to meaning. Finally, feedback occurs when the re- ceiver responds to the sender’s commu- nication with a return  message. Without feedback, the communication is one-way; with feedback, it is two-way.  Feedback is a powerful  aid to communication effec- tiveness because it enables the sender to determine whether the receiver correctly interpreted the message.

Managers who are effective commu- nicators understand  and use the circular nature of  communication. Consider Nortel Networks’ Virtual Leadership Academy,  a  monthly televised program hosted by Dan Hunt, president of Nor- tel’s Caribbean and Latin American op- erations, and Emma Carrasco, vice pres- ident of marketing and communications. Hunt and Carrasco  use a talk-show for- mat to get people talking. Employees from about 40 different countries watch the show from their regional offices and call in their questions and comments. “We’re always looking  for ways to break down barriers,” says Carrasco.  “People  watch  talk shows in every country,  and they’ve learned that it’s okay to say what’s  on their minds.”8 The television program is the channel through which Hunt and Carrasco send their encoded message. Employees decode and interpret  the message and encode their feedback, which is sent through the channel  of the telephone  hookup. The communications  circuit is complete.

Source: Daft Richard L., Marcic Dorothy (2009), Understanding Management, South-Western College Pub; 8th edition.

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